Trust Me: Why Trust is Crucial for Business Success, and How to Build It

May 31, 2011

According to a recent presentation from HubSpot, “selling is 10X easier once you have established trust.” Other than having something of value to offer, trust is the most essential element for business success. It removes psychological barriers and objections to buying, and makes people want to do business with you because they are comfortable.

I was talking to a client not long ago about some travel she has coming up that will take her away from the office for several weeks. Half-jokingly, I told her not to worry, I can build her business without her. She laughed, then said, “You know what’s amazing? Even though we’ve only been working together for a few months, I completely trust you to do it.”

That is amazing, and it is treasured. Particularly for consultants like me who work mostly out of sight of our clients,  but really for any business, trust is absolutely essential to maintaining long-term client relationships and generating referral business.Trust is Like a Ming Vase

Trust is precious yet delicate, like a work of fine art, such as a Ming vase:

  • • It’s extremely valuable.
  • • It’s difficult to obtain.
  • • It’s fragile and easily broken.
  • • Once broken, it’s extraordinarily difficult to repair.

But trust is unlike that vase in one critical aspect. Once you’ve obtained a Ming vase (or any other physical thing of value), assuming you take reasonable steps to safeguard it, it’s yours. Trust, on the other hand, can never be taken for granted and must be constantly and vigilantly re-earned. It cannot be, like civilization in the words of Kipling, something “laboriously achieved” but only “precariously defended.”

Most high-value purchases now begin online. Your first opportunity to build trust comes from what you say online and what others say about you. That’s why blogging is important (as a way to educate, inform and even entertain, without blatant selling) as is social media (for answering questions and building online relationships that lead to positive third-party coverage and comments).

But the process of building trust is even more fundamental than that. Blogs and social networks are just tools. They can be used productively, or clumsily. What matters most is your approach to business.

Before the Sale

  • • Explain (without hype or a sales pitch) what you do, so people understand if you are offering what they are looking for.
  • • Demonstrate knowledge (through blogging, guest posts,  comments, interaction on social networks, presentations, etc.).
  • • Differentiate yourself, with disparaging your competition. Walmart (“Always the Low Price”) and Lexus (“The Pursuit of Perfection”) are effective examples in the consumer world. The agency I work with, KC Associates, is a full service marketing and PR agency (of which there are zillions) but focused exclusively on b2b technology clients; the focus sets the agency apart.
  • • Be transparent. Buyers can smell BS from a great distance. Better to give an answer that is less than ideal but honest than one that is just what you think the prospect wants to hear but is an exaggeration (or worse).

After the Sale

  • • Do what you say you are going to do.
  • • Be as responsive as possible.
  • • Set realistic expectations (then work hard to exceed them).
  • • Be forthright. Your customers don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do you expect you to be straight with them. If something doesn’t work as well as planned, tell your customer, as precisely as possible, why. Then make recommendations for what to do differently next time.

Particularly with the explosion of social media and online content, buyers are more informed than ever before. The shady, fly-by-night operators will be exposed more quickly—while vendors who deliver value and engender trust will thrive.

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16 Responses

  1. A great article – thanks for posting. About the only point I can think of to add is simply to know when to say no. If you are not sure of your ability to do something the client or future client is asking you to do, the best policy is to not undertake to do it. I have won business by telling people this upfront and then recommending an expert to them who will do a better job. They get the job done by the expert, but they come back to me for what they now understand I do, when they next need that service.

    By the way, I believe your post has a typo in the 3rd point of before the sale: “Differentiate yourself, with disparaging your competition” the with should be without.

    On the same topic, although not as filled with concrete advice as your post, is a post called, “The Evolution of our Digital Senses” which discusses Digital Trust Factors. It makes an interesting companion piece.

    http://www.inbound-marketing-automation.ca/blog/2009/11/24/the-evolution-of-our-digital-senses/

  2. With trust, comes responsibility. We too feel the gift of trust.

    Creating a brand, a visual voice, requires a level of trust. Marketing and PR firms have long been charged with creating the “voice” of the client but with the advent of social media, marketing firms now have new opportunities to share out the brand. CEO’s are turning to their trusted marketing advisors to help them navigate the in’s and out’s of their online presence—where to be or not to be. And those marketing experts often turn to us, social media professionals, to further guide them to the most beneficial social media channels for their clients. Trust, b2b, top down.

    As social media managers, we take it further and function as the actual voice of the client and engage consumers on their behalf. It is a heady experience to tweet or comment on behalf of a Fortune 500 CEO, but we are always aware that one misstep and they lose their footing and so do we. They fall, we fall.

    Many companies are just dipping their toe in social media. There has been a long-standing debate as to who is best positioned to be the voice of the brand. Should companies trust their staff to be brand advocates or should it be outsourced to social media professionals who are aware of the privacy issues and pitfalls of conversation media?

    CEO’s tend to pull in their tentacles afraid of the risks. They feel more comfortable with a professional taking the reins, at least initially, overseeing the implementation and delivery. So, until leadership feels comfortable doing “social business”, we will continue to serve as their trusted agents, doing what marketing has always done… helping companies put their best foot forward rather than their foot in their mouth.

    Great article Tom!


  3. Tom 

    Very thoughtful comment. Thanks Karen.

  4. Tom,

    Great post. It is all about Trust. As you know, content – useful and relevant content – is a good way to build trust… but it takes time. It’s also good to remember that you need to build this trust in escrow. Try to cash it in early, and it will backfire on you.

    Bob


  5. Tom 

    Thanks Bob, and great point! I wrote a post a while back on karma in social media (http://webbiquity.com/social-media-marketing/the-social-media-monitoring-metric-we-need-but-cant-get/) that makes much the same point. Social media is about “paying it forward.” Patience will be rewarded; expecting a direct quid pro quo won’t be.

  6. I’m agree with you in this. Trust, Branding, Sales – all these are very important aspects but trust is the most important.


  7. Tom 

    Yes – trust is a component of branding, and essential for sales.

  8. I think every aspiring seo consultant should read this post at least twice over, it contains a truth that many people forget in today’s world. Trust is something that has to be built and maintained, and that is how a reputation for your company comes about.


  9. Tom 

    Thanks very much for that generous praise Sandy! Trust is absolutely essential for building a business over the long term. And it leads to referral business – so much easier to close than cold prospecting.

  10. This is an enlightening article but it will be more beneficial if you discuss the ways of building trust for us, who work beyond the visibility of customers and also there is never any direct interaction for us to impress our trust. This is regarding most of the online services.


  11. Tom 

    Hi James – if it’s possible (and advisable) for you to have direct customer contact online, then you can do so through social media tools (like Twitter and LinkedIn) or through a website engagement platform like Workface (http://workface.com). If it is not practical for you to have that contact, then the only way to build trust is through the quality of work, which is all that will be visible to customers.

    I hope that helps!

  12. I was searching for tips to set up a new business and suddenly I stumble upon here. Actually I am setting up a new website for my business. I got your point and I am completely agree with it, Trust is the most important thing in business. Surely your article is great effort and definitely will going to help many people like me. From now on I’ll regularly going to check the new stuff on your blog. Thanks for sharing your great thoughts.


  13. Tom 

    Thanks Caroline, glad you found the post helpful!

  14. I definitely agree with you that trust helps build stronger business rapport. In case of remote sources, how do you think the clients would be able to do the same when there is very little interaction. Looking forward for your reply.


  15. Tom 

    In the case of remote resources, the key is frequent communication of both activities and results. As long as there is communication (email, chat, Skype), the resource feels less “remote” and it is easier to build trust.

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